By Edward D. Iannielli III
Autism is a part of our son’s life and we have been very supportive and loving every step of the way. It has been a long and winding road with many twists and turns and we have been trying to find the right support system to help our son and encourage him to do his best and to never lose heart. I have had days where I felt like crying when I saw how much my son struggled and longed for friendship. When you see the sadness and the isolation in your child’s eyes and you hear them express it through words it really has a way of bringing you down and making you understand the pain they feel. I know in ways that only a father can and it is very emotional for me to try and express it the way I see and feel it as I see my son isolate himself. I can relate in ways as I was a very shy kid growing up and only had a handful of friends.
The most difficult thing in life we all will encounter is finding acceptance. The first thing we learn is that we must learn to accept and love our self first. We can not have a relationship with someone else if we have not come to accept and understand who we are. I believe autistic children indeed struggle with who they are and it takes time for them to come to a level of comfort with themselves as they explore and live beyond what they are used to. Autistic children must be encouraged to initiate and try new things and that is the exact opposite of what they are used to.
When my son was a little boy I would try to draw his attention away from what he was doing as a typical father would with his son but I suddenly realized my son was different and when he was playing in his little corner there seemed to be no way of breaking through to him. He would be so engrossed in what he was doing that it would be virtually impossible in distracting him. I remember when he was lining up his matchbox and hot wheels cars one by one in the living room in a long line there was no way of engaging him as he just seemed content in setting up one car after another until he got to the other side of the room and then he would start a new line of cars. He seemed to do this for a couple of hours until he tired of it and he would not say a word. I would try to engage him and it seemed I was just a witness to what he was doing. I felt sad that I could not share this activity with him in a way where we felt connected. It seemed although we were together and I was looking on with interest that he was still alone in his little world and this made me realize what autism is all about.
I tried to find ways of bringing my son out of this world he retreated to as a young child and found that I needed to talk with my wife and other parents who have been affected in such a way. I found it hard trying to put a finger on it but I knew I could express what I was feeling and maybe someone could help shed some light on what goes on in an autistic child’s mind and why is it so hard to connect with them. We all from time to time enjoy alone time but for my son it seemed alone time was the preferred way but I do not believe that he intentionally enjoyed being alone. I believe he just felt comfortable being outside of social situations.
We try our best to engage our son in activities which require participation and offer the opportunity to make friends and have fun. The most fun he has is with his camp experiences in the summertime. He feels happy in camp because he gets swim time on a hot day and to him water is his playground. He can spend hours splashing around in the pool and we feel confident with the staff and lifeguards present. Camp is a great opportunity for him to participate with other kids his age and to gain attention with the counselors. I believe this is so very important in developing our son’s self esteem and also getting him out and doing fun things with other children. We are fortunate to have him enrolled in camp this summer and we are looking forward to seeing him progress and enjoying himself and hopefully making friends after a rather difficult school year.
We are always trying to find things to open up our son’s world and we know it first starts in his school. We are still trying to find the best school for our son that will challenge him and allow him to feel comfortable and find acceptance. The main issue with our son and the schools he has attended is his inability to control his feelings and emotions and most importantly, his behavior. We are working in providing him with the understanding of how he should behave and conduct himself in school and in public and hoping that if we reinforce it in the proper way that eventually it will register with him so he doesn’t continue to find himself in a similar situation of not having a school to go to.
Deep down our son is a wonderful kid but he is closed off from the outside world in many ways that affects how he acts and behaves when he is confronted with situations and has to express himself. In my world as a shy kid I just remained quiet but was always attentive to my responsibilities as a student. My son has difficulty in associating importance to achievement. It seems he does not feel the connection to schoolwork,effort and achievement that was instilled in me as a child. It seems the hard wiring is very different for an autistic child and there are great disconnects to reality.
If I could magically wave a wand to get my son to understand that he too has responsibilities and must follow rules I would do it in an instant because all the conversations I have with him seem to not make much of an impact. I am not a psychologist or a doctor so I am not always sure how best to talk to him about these matters but I am a father who loves his son and truly cares about him and I will do everything in my power to teach him right from wrong and show him that he too must be responsible and learn to behave and get along with his fellow classmates and show respect for his teachers. I owe it to him! We owe it to him!
I will always maintain a relationship with my son where I will try to inspire him and guide him. We are also seeking young adults who spend time with him mentoring and providing a good example. There is a sweet young girl who is in her second year of college who comes in the afternoon to spend a couple of hours with our son and plays games and talks with him and engages him bringing the kid that he is out and making a valuable connection. She also has her brother who is a high school student come and spend some time with our son. He does boy things like have a base ball catch and set up his train set. We are very encouraged that our son is starting to open up and is making valuable contacts and we will work to continue this and hopefully he will be able to all on his own as well. Autism is a part of our son’s life but it is not his life. His life can be so much more and he can dream and believe and manage even with Autism. God Bless you, Matthew! We love you and stand with you always!